The Essential Lesson Covid-19 Taught Me.

No, it has nothing to do with social distancing or wearing a mask.

Alan Kesselmann
Know Thyself, Heal Thyself


sea with a big wave. photo by Jairo Díaz, source
photo by Jairo Díaz, source

Back in the spring, when Covid-19 was wreaking havoc in Italy, things were pretty quiet over here in Estonia. We had our small outbreaks, but nothing as severe as there are right now. The government chose to react swiftly and ordered a lockdown in the middle of March.

At the time, I worked in one web development agency as Chief Business Development Officer and was a bit in over my head — for several reasons, but primarily due to having to deal with so many issues simultaneously. I had to face a new position and deal with a whole new set of problems, but on top of that, the entire covid-19 induced situation affected us also. Some of our clients chose to cease the development of their projects immediately. Some stopped working with us altogether — not for the covid, but for the reason of building their internal dev team. Some had other motives. So the company was in quite a dire situation while I was still getting the hang of how to run a sales team instead of my usual development team.

Covid situation added its own stress on top of everything else. The infection rate was creeping up, and the government took precautionary steps and directed everybody to work from home. This included kindergartens. This meant that I had to work from home while my wife had to take care of our two young sons (6month old and 2years and 6months old at the time). It was about then when the younger was discovering the world and the older son was finding out that he gets a lot less attention from his parents. My wife was learning what kind of problems this situation creates. And I, well, I discovered that it is incredibly challenging to work in the next room when there are 2 to 3 persons either crying or screaming in the other room.

On top of all that, I was not completely happy with how my superiors handled its issues. Everything piled up, and I decided I only have one course of action to take — to quit my job. I decided it would be best for all of us after doing the numbers and figuring out that we could survive for a while on the money we had set aside for rainy days.

So that is what I did, thinking that I would help my wife with our kids — offer her some relief — learn new things, work on my side project ideas and explore other things. But most importantly, I thought I would figure out what I wanted to do next.

Whoever said that God laughs when a man makes plans — or something like this — was a wise person. Very few things worked out as I actually planned: I explored one idea with a friend. We tried developing a prototype of a product only to give up because, at one point, neither of us were convinced it’s going somewhere. Then I joined another friend of mine as a technical co-founder for this fintech startup. We set clear goals for our 100-day sprint and tried to reach a clear understanding of where the product-market fit is for the idea. In the end, we did not get there and chose to pursue other goals. Against my wife’s wishes, I then joined another friend in her HealthTech startup, which seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, I had worked with several HealthTech projects back when I was still Team Lead at the web development agency. After discovering that working together with that person was not going to work out for various reasons, I left this project. I think I can consider myself lucky I found this out so early on.

So you can probably see now how none of my plans worked out — I still kept myself very busy and never actually made room for the things I wanted to do — learn, read, try new things and do some self-reflection. It’s just that we are so used to keeping ourselves busy.

On my fintech-friends recommendation, I did make some changes in my life, though. And this is where the learning began. I now understand how being stuck in a particular life makes it quite hard to change your habits. For the past 12–14 years, there were long periods where I took no vacation time and had only been taking out my 2-week vacations regularly for the past 4 years. But since I also had a very tough break-up to deal with within those last 4–5 years, I felt like the vacation was never enough. When everything piled up and stress became really hard, I quit my job but did not really rest. That’s the force of the habit I had formed throughout my life.

So the lesson I learned, you ask? Please? After all this long introduction? Here goes: Always make time for yourself.

Our life is so filled up with different things. Your spouse, work, kids, hobbies, friends — they all demand some portion of your time. Psychologists always say that the most important person to everybody should be themselves. But what does that really mean? Do I need to concentrate on things I like and love? I love my spouse, kids, hobbies, friends, and occasionally I even love my work. What should I concentrate on then? Plus, it is easy to get stuck in the wake-up → work → home → Wife & kids → TV → bed loop. Our whole economy is trained to make such loops most effective, but this, unfortunately, is not good for us.

That is how I felt — I always did some things for myself, but I still had this ache in me. Things changed when I really did take time for myself — my head, not my body. On my friends’ recommendation, I started meditating — something I always wanted to do. I started reading again. I figured out how to fit all the things I wanted to do in my daily life. I can now safely say I have a better understanding of who I am and what I want to do next.

So this is my lesson. This is what Covid-19 taught me. And it is my recommendation to everybody who reads this text: Take time for yourself. Do not fill it with anything. Leave it empty. Fill the time with yourself. Think about yourself — as I did. Am I doing what I wanted to do when I was a child, a teen or a young man? Are the things I’m doing the things I am most helpful in? What would be the most awesome thing I would like to do? How much do I need to change my current life to do any of those things? You’ll never find answers to these and other essential questions if you do not take time for yourself. So do it.

Take time for yourself.